For too long, the Middle East has been mired in conflict not because the differences fueling it are unresolvable, but because of failures of vision and political leadership.
In this moment of despair and anguish, President Biden has the opportunity to show that vision and leadership.
The broad outlines of peaceful solution have been clear for decades. In 2002, the Arab League offered Israel full recognition and acceptance in return for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – delivering peace, safety, self-determination and freedom to both peoples in states of their own.
The more specific parameters of a conflict-ending agreement between Israelis and Palestinians have also been clear for two decades; answers to every outstanding question have been negotiated and outlined in model peace agreements.
What has been lacking are leaders with the courage to sell a bold vision of a better future to their people, and the strength and will to lead them there.
This vacuum has been filled by others offering anger, mistrust and extremism. The result: Never-ending cycles of violence and retaliation, the inexcusable horror of October 7, the devastation of the ongoing war in Gaza, and endless occupation in the West Bank.
The first priority for diplomats right now must of course be negotiating an immediate stop to the fighting, the release of hostages and the delivery of humanitarian aid, but there is also a crying need for a longer-term vision for ending the underlying conflict, and a plan to get there.
President Biden rightly stated early in the conflict that “there’s no going back to the status quo as it stood on October the 6th. There has to be a vision of what comes next. In our view, it has to be a two-state solution.”
That’s why J Street is urging President Biden to boldly state American’s readiness to recognize a demilitarized state of Palestine as the centerpiece of a comprehensive regional diplomatic initiative.
Recognition of Palestine is central to J Street’s proposal to the president on how to turn this horrific crisis into a generational opportunity for all key parties – Israelis, Palestinians, Saudis, and the Arab League.
Key to charting a path to this “political horizon” is the continued strong desire, even in the post-October 7 reality, for normalization of relations between Israel and many of its Arab neighbors, in particular Saudi Arabia. Yet, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations continue to make crystal clear that even as they remain interested in normalizing relations with Israel, they cannot proceed without recognition of Palestine.
That is why serious proponents of two states, including the United Kingdom, have begun discussing recognition of Palestinian statehood en route – i.e. prior to, and as a catalyst for – a conflict-ending agreement in which Israel also ultimately recognizes Palestinian statehood.
Showing the Palestinians that major world powers are serious enough about two states to take the step of Palestinian recognition – even against the wishes of the sitting Israeli government – may be the only realistic way to overcome understandable Palestinian doubts.
This is where bold presidential leadership comes in: The world and the parties need someone to lay out a plan – with specific steps and a timetable – for getting as rapidly as possible from the horror of conflict to a future of peace and security for all.
The only person with the credibility and the influence to lay out such a plan is the American President, and the world is waiting on American leadership to break the horror of the status quo.
Among the components of the plan:
- The specific steps Palestinians must take to revitalize and reinvent their government with new leadership committed to addressing corruption, demilitarization, renouncing terror and violence, and reaffirming recognition of Israel;
- The specific steps Israel must take to ease occupation and improve daily life on the West Bank, crack down on settler violence and address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza;
- The incentives the President is ready to offer the parties – American recognition of Palestinian statehood, reaffirmation of the Arab Peace Initiative and security guarantees for all parties, commitments to supporting international law; and
- A UN Security Council Resolution affirming global and unanimous support for the vision, the process and the parameters for negotiation leading to a final status agreement and admission of Palestine as a full member state in the United Nations.
By outlining a peaceful path to freedom, independence and statehood, the United States will bolster moderate Palestinian leadership, disempower Hamas and reduce the levels of despair and disenfranchisement upon which extremists feed.
President Biden has amassed an extraordinary reservoir of goodwill in Israel for his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s defense. Now is the time to draw on that trust to lay out the choice of path that the Israeli people must ultimately make.
For decades, millions of Israelis and millions of Palestinians have wanted nothing more than to live on their land in peace, freedom and equality. Now is the time for President Biden to lay out a bold, comprehensive program to reach that goal – grounded in the two-state solution, building on regional normalization and recognizing the existence and legitimacy of a state that is the national homeland of the Palestinian people, alongside the national homeland of the Jewish people, Israel.